The Ebb and Flow of Life at a State Park Campground

I’d forgotten how predictable—and oddly comforting—is the migration of the state park campground population.

We show up mid-day on a Wednesday, often, when about half the campground is empty. Things seem slow and lazy, and we back into our site and set up in our full regalia. Then we run errands in town while others are working and we chill at the campground while it’s quiet.

Come Friday night, the weekenders arrive, often in the dark, after having packed up as soon as they got off work and driven all evening. They’re desperate for time in the woods, desperate enough to back their trailer into a tree-lined spot in the pitch dark or to set up a complicated tent while their tired, cranky kids ask repeatedly, “Can we get in the tent yet?”

Then the ebb happens: some folks leave Saturday morning; some arrive Saturday and leave Sunday.

I’m amazed by how much work people put into just one night away. They bring bags of groceries, boxes of soda and beer, half a cord of firewood, and often a tent the size of our trailer. They go through periods of whining (“We have to go back for the pillows!“) and chilling by the fire, and sometimes it rains on them the only night they’re here. Then, after sleeping late (and missing the campground wildlife), they spend two hours shoving all that stuff into their car and they drive away.

I wonder, did the have fun? Was all that trouble worth it? Is it that much fun to camp? (Because, you know, I don’t have any experience at this ….)

A lone, weathered-looking guy, driving a flatbed truck piled high with toolboxes and mystery hoses and random paraphernalia for his outside work, pulls in towing his ancient pop-up camper. He builds a gigantic fire just for himself to sit by all evening silently, and then he leaves for his work gig before the sun rises.

A minivan pulls in, all the doors open, and excited children roll out like marbles, exclaiming for the whole world to hear, “WE’RE CAMPING!” They run around their little campsite picking up sticks, asking eagerly about the upcoming fire, and bouncing off each other in their glee.

From the far side of the campground I can hear a man whistling a verse of “Camptown Races.”

A boy yells, “Dadd-eeeeee!” and a man yells back in a perfect imitation, “Child-eeee?”

In the silence of the evening a young boy exclaims, “I have to go potty!” A minute later I hear him toddling over to the edge of the woods, and then he yells in triumph, “All done!” and climbs back in the tent.

This is universal.

Throughout the ebb and flow of the weekenders are the folks like us, for whom the campground is both a destination and a layover. You can spot us at the outdoor laundry machines, on ladders surreptitiously washing our rigs, and on the trails on weekdays when fewer people are in the park. On weekends we nap outside our trailers and watch the “Weekend Camper Show.” Believe me, you start to recognize your own kind.

You’re Stalking Us

Like these people!

I mentioned before that we met fellow fulltimers and Airstreamers, Sherri and Mooch, in the Keys. Shortly after we both headed north into Florida proper, Sherri texted that they were in the campground we’d just been in the night before.

Guess who pulls up two spaces from us here at Hillsborough River? What’s funny is that neither of us knew the other was here. I thought I might have recognized Mooch pulling in, but then an hour later Sherri pressed her face close to our tent and asked incredulously,


And of course I responded,


Let the reunion begin.

For one fun night we sat around their campfire, eating boiled peanuts and telling stories about growing up in Virginia (we all ate the peanuts; Mooch and I grew up in Virginia). Sherri refilled her wine glass and laughed at us, and Tracy heard more than he ever could care to learn about the innards of soft-shelled crabs.

I played the uke and Mooch played his harmonica. (Next time, he plays more harp and I play less uke, and we sit farther from neighbors so we can all belt out singing.)

Plus, we held our collective breaths to take that night-time selfie under their awning light. We look a little deranged because we’re trying to cram what should be years of fun into one unexpected night.

Because even we full-timers have to get going and those two were due to camp with friends the next day on the friends’ land, they had to leave early the next morning. Tragically, we didn’t get to share that moonshine we’d talked about.

Yet another incentive to meet up with them again soon. More harp. More singing. More moonshine. Not a bad roadmap for friendship.

Hiking with Banjo

After most everyone left the park, we were able to take Banjo out on the beautiful trails here through the live oaks and palms and pines, along the Hillsborough River.

The whole time, she was on the lookout for her new favorite prey, armadillos, and we had to remind her that this little turtle was just as off-limits as the armadillos. (Heck, Banjo, all prey are off limits. Not sure she’s going to learn this anytime soon.)

Her other gripe is that it’s hot and humid here so she wears out quickly, and we don’t let her drink water from the river that’s right there beside us. If she got near that river’s edge in the wrong spot, she would become the prey.

(I searched for a pic of an alligator to insert here, but they’re so ubiquitous that apparently I’ve ceased taking pictures of them. Here’s a live oak hanging over the river for you, instead)

Uke Segment

I’ve been asking friends we’re planning to visit for them to ID songs we could sing together around the campfire (so I can start learning them now). Here’s my favorite verse from The Weight, which I’m working on for Heather and George, whom we’ll see in April. (Really, I want to show off the lush forest right here at our campsite.)

I hope to see you guys soon, too, and heck, maybe we’ll all be vaccinated by then!

I’m adding that to my wishlist of more harp, more singing. And both kinds of moonshine.

8 thoughts to “The Ebb and Flow of Life at a State Park Campground”

  1. I love the bit about the weekend warrior campers. Years ago we did that in Shenandoah Nt’l Pk, just one night now and then, And yes, it was worth the effort.

  2. I love your descriptions of all the other campers and their different life stories. Such an excellent writing style, so descriptive. Glad you got to see your new friends!